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It has been described as a gift, compensation as well as payment, but bride price still remains a contentious issue in our society, writes Rachel Kabejja
In the face of modernisation, many tribes and families still carry out the practice of bride price but in varying ways. While the rural population still regards it an important issue and families set and demand for bride price, the more urban elite view it more as a gift to a woman’s parents and have a more casual attitude towards the items presented.
Irrespective of how it is practiced, the aspect that it is some kind of payment that stipulates that on traditional marriage, a woman is bought, is the source of a lot of debate. Bride price is such a controversial issue today that a petition has been filed seeking court to declare the practice unconstitutional.
Like in most matters cultural, different people have their different views on the practice. Following the rise of domestic violence, women activists and some Non governmental organisations have come out boldly to regard bride price as a major cause of this violence and called for its abolition. And like it has been seen in media reports, quite a number of women most recently Jenipher Alupo of Pallisa who is said to have been forced to breast feed dogs are victims of the practice since husbands lay claim of ownership on the fact that they paid bride price.
A research study was recently carried out by Mifumi Project, a women’s right agency based in Tororo and Violence Against Women Research Group, University of Bristol UK and The Centre for the study of Safety and Well-being, University of Warwick, UK in four districts of Mbale, Tororo, Palisa and Budaka.
The research sought to investigate the impact of bride price, its possible inter relations with domestic violence and poverty and to contribute toward national and pan African policy debate as well as for local action and capacity building purposes. 180 interviews were conducted by local researchers in the four districts with those who had experienced it,37 individual and group interviews were held including three case studies,10 interviews with widows, 27 interviews with national and local experts and duty bearers as well as policy and literature review and discussions with Mifumi staff.
According to researchers, professor Gill Hague of the University of Bristol UK and Dr Ravi Thaira of Centre of safety and well-being, University of Warwick UK, the exchange of gifts under which bride price falls is happening in almost every marriage around the globe and can’t be easily done away with. It needs to be looked at and understood from a traditional and cultural context. The initial findings of the research that were presented to the media in April, point out that bride price has both a positive and negative impact although it seems from the findings that the latter outweigh the former.
The interviewees recognised that it is the status and official start of marriage and many confessed that it binds a couple. It generally gives value to the marriage and man. It was also revealed that many people use bride price as a token of saying thank you for raising such a beautiful daughter and giving her to us (the bride groom’s family).
It was also noted that bride price gives pride, value, security and purchase to the wife in her new home and somehow portrays the man as a grown up, responsible enough to take care of his wife.
Examples of the negative aspects were varied and ranged from the denial of education to the girl by the parents in a bid to extract wealth from her, promoting early marriages and young men borrowing money to finance the bride price hence starting the new family in debts.
It was also noted that a man who fails to pay bride price is often looked at as inferior and in case of tragedy, to such a man in the form of death of his wife, he would be required to first pay bride price before being allowed to bury his wife. The same report noted that bride price has left many men unmarried because they can’t afford it which makes the having of children impossible for them.
In the same report, interviewees shared real life experiences of bride price. Some couples revealed that they have been pursued by the bride’s family for failure to pay bride price while many women have been inherited after their husband’s death and some brides families requested for the return bride price after the death of the wife. Widow inheritance and victimisation of infertile women were among the many experiences shared.
On the positive side, it was noted that bride price has stabilised and resulted into loving relationships between the two families. The report also looked at the connection between bride price and HIV. It found out that women or young girls who are forced to get married for wealth accumulation by their parents maybe presented to men who are already infected since their goal(parents) is just to get wealth. It also noted that wife inheritance as well has accelerated the spread of the disease especially where bride price was paid.
Also looked at was the connection between bride price and domestic violence. The result revealed that 99 per cent of the interviewees had experienced domestic violence, mostly the widowed women.
If bride price cannot be done away with and is a cultural practice, what should be done about it then? The report says that out of the people they interviewed, professional and experts wanted the practice reformed. A smaller group of people wanted the practice abolished.
Those who wished the practice abolished sighted the deeper problems of poverty and the acceptability of domestic violence in families where bride price has been paid. They also said that poverty and the abuse of women cannot be removed by just bride price reform.
Among the changes people wished to see on bride price was, reforming the practice to smaller non refundable, modest gifts topped the list. There were also thoughts like a change in the legal aspect locally and nationally among other things.
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